Published on January 23rd, 2015 | by Adrien Begrand0
Adrien Begrand’s Top BluRays of 2014
Some of us are still clinging tenaciously to physical media, including Adrien Begrand, who tells us about some of his best BluRay purchases from 2014.
There’s been much talk about many consumers remaining loyal to, or simply reverting to physical formats as digital music consumption continues its upward trend, with vinyl experiencing a remarkable resurgence and cassettes, bafflingly, becoming de rigueur in the underground. Additionally, though, the same can be said for film enthusiasts as well. Whether it’s people exploring the kitschier side of old VHS tapes or enthusiastically scooping up the latest beautifully designed BluRay reissues, hard copies of movies haven’t lost their appeal at all. Besides, if you’re picky like I am, Netflix never has what you want, and the streamed picture quality is terrible.
According to a report by the Los Angeles Times, BluRay and DVD sales are in fact holding fairly steady. While sales are down eight percent overall, more and more companies like Shout! Factory and Kino Lorber are starting to follow Criterion’s lead, re-releasing wonderfully restored and repackaged films. As a result, 2014 was an outstanding year to be a film nerd, and there was no shortage of BluRay releases that drained my wallet and PayPal account. Criterion remains the gold standard, and as far as quality went 2014 was arguably its best year yet, but a handful of other releases dazzled my eyes as well, from classics, to TV series, to even a few new movies. In fact, I had so many eclectic titles to choose from that a simple top ten was impossible. So enjoy this list of the 20 BluRays that blew me away in 2014, with a little write up on almost all of them, and here’s hoping the new year is just as strong.
1. Eraserhead (Criterion)
2. Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery (Paramount)
2014 was a dream come true for David Lynch fans. Two of his most beloved creations made their way to BluRay, and the results were spectacular. The 1977 art house classic Eraserhead is a shoe-in for the year’s best release, gorgeously restored to the point where its hi-def picture takes your breath away, and boasting an absolute bevy of bonus features that give as detailed a look at Lynch’s landmark debut as possible. Cult film freaks were, to put it mildly, In Heaven.
Fans of Lynch’s enigmatic, tragically short-lived TV series Twin Peaks had been craving a proper complete anthology for ages, and they finally got it in the form of the lavishly packaged The Entire Mystery. Not only does it include all episodes of the series as well as the prequel film Fire Walk With Me for the first time ever on BluRay, but expands on the show even more by providing an additional 90 minutes’ worth of extra scenes. It is a glorious anthology, and the most beautifully photographed TV series in history has never looked better.
3. The Essential Jacques Demy (Criterion)
The best release of a very good year from Criterion was this wonderful collection by the late French director. Overseen by his family, including fellow director Agnès Varda, this isn’t a complete collection of his filmography, but a brilliant collection of his best and most underrated work. Demy’s two signature musicals, the timeless, melancholy The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and the effervescent The Young Girls of Rochefort, are the big draw – and both Technicolour flicks explode with colour on BluRay — but other selections like 1963’s dark Bay of Angels, the Princess Bride-predating Donkey Skin, and the 1982 opera Une Chambre En Ville all prove to be just as rewarding.
4. The Conformist (Raro)
Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1970 classic always looked inferior on home video, whether on VHS or woeful-looking DVD, but it was finally given a proper spit and polish, and his tale of a bizarre love triangle and an assassination plot in fascist Italy and WWII France now looks as eye-popping as it deserves to be. Whether the brooding visage of Jean-Louis Trintignant’s repressed character, the astonishing beauty of Dominique Sanda and Stefani Sandrelli, or the brutalist architecture and sets, the visuals are every bit as arresting as the story.
5. The Complete Jacques Tati (Criterion)
The comedic genius of Jacques Tati is celebrated in this spectacular collection of the French legend’s work. Focusing on his four signature films – Jour De Fête, the whimsical Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, its sequel Mon Oncle, and the groundbreaking Play Time – and appended by short films, interviews, film essays and written essays, you could not have hoped for a better career overview suited for completist fans and neophytes alike.
6. Picnic at Hanging Rock (Criterion)
Personally I had been waiting for an improved version of Peter Weir’s haunting 1975 film for ages. Previously available as a Criterion DVD that predated enhanced HD screens, there was plenty of room for improvement, and this new restoration is jaw-dropping. Its juxtaposition of young feminine beauty with the harsh, unforgiving Australian wilderness has never looked better on screen, and if that wasn’t enough, Joan Lindsay’s excellent, previously out of print novel that inspired the film is included.
7. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (Criterion)
I’ve always had great fondness for Stanley Kramer’s insane 1963 slapstick epic road flick, and it was a pleasure to see Criterion pull out all the stops on this loaded, five-disc release, which not only includes the version everybody knows, but a special extended version as well. 197 minutes of Buddy Hackett, Phil Silver, Jonathan Winters, and loads and loads more. Oh, the zaniness.
8. Tess (Criterion)
9. Roman Polanski’s Macbeth (Criterion)
2014 was also a great year if you’re into Roman Polanski’s films, as a pair of his most underrated efforts made their long-awaited debuts on BluRay. Long a high school staple — how awesome was it to see a wicked decapitation in grade 10 English? — Polanski’s Macbeth is dark, earthy, and undeniably sexy thanks to a mesmerizing performance by Francesca Annis as Lady Macbeth. The 1980 adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, on the other hand, has some of the prettiest cinematography in history, and features Nastassja Kinski as the ambitious yet heartbreakingly doomed title character.
10. La Dolce Vita (Criterion)
Fellini’s most popular film has never looked more glorious than it does on this fabulous Criterion BluRay, but it’s not as if we needed another reason to lose ourselves in his prescient and cutting satire of celebrity-obsessed popular culture.
11. A Hard Day’s Night (Criterion)
It never fails to astound me just how much ebullient energy burst from The Beatles’ first film with Richard Lester, but this BluRay release takes the cake, highlighted by remastered audio that sounds so spectacular it jolts you awake from that first Rickenbacker chord during the title sequence.
12. Fantastic Mr. Fox (Criterion)
Seeing Wes Anderson’s best movie given the special edition treatment is rewarding enough, but what puts Fantastic Mr. Fox over the top is its devotion to the story of Roald Dahl, including a feature-length documentary on the great storyteller, and best of all, a complete audio recording of him reading the novel in its entirety.
13. Under the Skin
Bonus bells and whistles are scant on this BluRay release, but Jonathan Glazer’s latest was easily the best film of 2014, a rare moment where a global superstar (Scarlett Johansson in this case) took a huge risk with an ambitious director and smart source material, and created something completely unique. Featuring dazzling yet understated special effects, a gonzo approach to filmmaking, and a harrowing soundtrack by Mica Levi, this is an instant sci-fi classic in the tradition of Solaris, World on a Wire, and yes, even 2001: A Space Odyssey.
14. Persona (Criterion)
Ingmar Bergman’s surreal, minimalist classic film was yet another huge, long-awaited score for Criterion, and they delivered with a gorgeously designed package that pays proper tribute to this experimental and highly influential exploration of psychodrama.
15. Ida (Music Box)
This movie by Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski snuck up on me late last year, a humble little masterpiece about a young nun-in training who discovers there was lot more to her heritage than she ever imagined. Music Box did a splendid job on this BluRay too, including some good bonus features as well as a collection of thoughtfully written essays. But first and foremost is the film, its beautifully shot black and white and 1.37:1 aspect ratio enhancing its postwar Poland setting.
16. Thief (Criterion)
I’ve always liked Michael Mann’s films, although I could hardly call myself a fan of the guy. His debut Thief was a total blind purchase by me, and it wound up resonating with me more than any other of his movies, which is saying something. Thoughtful and precise, loaded with many of Mann’s trademarks, and featuring a terrific performance by James Caan (and an amazing score by Tangerine Dream) you can’t watch Thief now without thinking the popular 2011 movie Drive owes a hell of a lot to this flick.
17. The Night Porter (Criterion)
Liliana Cavani’s highly controversial, operatic 1974 film was splendidly reissued by Criterion, a vast improvement over the original DVD in all respects, from the picture quality, to the essays, to the extras, to the art design. At the heart of it is the disturbing yet oddly endearing story of two former lovers (Charlotte Rampling and Dirk Bogarde) rekindling their intense, transgressive romance in post-WWII Vienna, at great risk to their lives.
18. Breaking the Waves (Criterion)
Lars Von Trier’s greatest achievement on film has been lovingly restored and appended with copious extras, a reminder of the sensation he created when this supercharged fable about religion and sex made its first big splash in 1996.
19. Scanners (Criterion)
When it was announced that we could finally see Louis Del Grande’s head explode in high definition, you could practically hear the screams of glee from those of us over the age of 40. Videodrome remains the definitive Cronenberg horror flick in my opinion, but Scanners isn’t far behind, helping to set the stage for one of cinema’s greatest provocateurs.
20. Nymphomaniac: Director’s Cut (Mongrel)
I like films that take risks, and none in 2014 was riskier than Lars Von Trier’s daring, funny, harrowing, thoughtful, 325-minute Nymphomaniac. A spectacular mess featuring a bravura performance by the great Charlotte Gainsbourg — herself an actor who loves taking risks — the film sees Von Trier exploring his own thoughts on sexuality, feminism, and mores through a dialogue between his two main characters. The ‘censored’ version that appeared in theatres early last year seemed shocking enough, but that’s nothing compared to the expanded director’s cut, which is not for the squeamish. For those who do see it, it will provoke discussion, which is what all great films do.